HOW DISTINGUISHED ARE WE – Kee Tissa – Ex.30:11—34, by Rabbi
This week’s Torah reading is among the longest, most varied and
most dramatic readings of the year. In its nearly four long chapters, we
will read first about how the Hebrew tribesmen in the desert had to
register for the military draft. Then come the definitions of the liquids and
their containers required for the Tent of Meeting, Israel’s portable
Sabbath day and its sanctity is revealed in the prohibition of any
work on that day, even if that work includes building the sanctuary.
Meanwhile Moses is spending 40 days on the top of Mount Sinai, at
last receiving the Tablets of the Law, two flat stones that bear the Divine
engraving of the 10 Commandments. And simultaneously, in the camp
below, the people are dancing around the Golden Calf. First religious
rebellion in our history!
Moses and Joshua start down the mountain and Moses sees the
idolatrous celebration going on. In his rage he breaks the tablets.
Returning to camp, Moses burns the Golden Calf. The people
Then we will read Moses’ prayer, as he begs for Divine mercy on
Israel. Ending words are “Let us be distinguished , I and Your people,
from the other nations on Earth.”
Now Moses receives a second set of tablets, and learns the 13
Attributes of G-d, which we recite on all sacred festivals. And those
festivals are described here.
Our reading continues with some basic ancient Kosher laws, like “Do
not boil a kid in his mother’s milk.”
As a result of Moses’ direct contact with G-d, his face shines. He
resorts to veiling his face when facing his people.
Selecting one verse from this climactic reading is a challenge. For
this week, let’s re-read the conclusion of Moses’ prayer:
ךמעו ינא ונילפנו “Let us be distinguished, I and Your people, from all
the other nations…” Certainly the Jewish people was distinguished from
other nations even before entering the Land of Israel. And not only by
receiving the laws of life directly from Heaven. It was selected as a target
by desert tribes and primitive potentates from Amalek to Philistia.
What else is new? In today’s world we find ourselves distinguished
by our number of Nobel prizewinners…by the ultimate failure of those
who would wipe us out…or by our unique talent for internal
disagreement. Really, how distinguished are we?
Somehow, can we turn those talents to achieve the true distinction
that we are capable of? Can we rise above political puerility and manage
to blend our ancient inspiration with modern reality? To realize that we
don’t have to agree about everything, but we have to work together – that
would be a true distinction. That could unite us worldwide and forge a
Then we could fulfill Moses’ prayer, and at last be “distinguished, I
and Your people, from all the nations on Earth.”
Let’s accept the challenge.